Jailed for life for a vicious murder he insists he did not commit, Anthony Wright spent nearly half his time behind bars awaiting the day last month when he appeared before a Philadelphia judge to hear the good news that he had been granted a new trial.
Any sense of relief for Wright and his legal team, though, has been brief.
Even before Wright, 43, officially returned to the status of defendant rather than convict, prosecutors made it clear that they would seek another first-degree murder verdict. District Attorney Seth Williams' legal team remains unconvinced by DNA and other evidence revealed with the help of attorneys from the Innocence Project at Yeshiva University's Benjamin N. Cardozo Law School in New York.
That compelling evidence suggests not only that Wright is likely innocent of the 1991 slaying of 77-year-old Louise Talley in her Nicetown home, but also that a now-dead career criminal was the actual killer.
The evidence unearthed during a nine-year campaign on Wright's behalf at least prompted prosecutors to finally drop their objections to a new trial, which was granted when Common Pleas Court Judge D. Webster Keogh formally vacated Wright's conviction.
But the revelation that there is little if any physical evidence now linking Wright to the victim has been interpreted by prosecutors merely as proof that he had an accomplice who - incredibly - was completely unknown to Philadelphia detectives investigating the crime. No word on how the then-19-year-old Wright would know a felon roughly twice his age, nor on why he wouldn't have mentioned the accomplice when he signed a confession, later recanted, under police pressure.
It's Williams' prerogative, of course - no doubt he would say his duty as district attorney - to test his far-fetched theory before a jury in a second trial. But it would serve justice better if Williams declined to retry Wright, who has likely served a 22-year prison sentence either for a crime he did not commit or for one in which he played a far less significant role than alleged.
In any case, there is absolutely no cause for Williams' office to suggest - as it did in a filing Wednesday - that Wright may be sent to death row if the new trial yields a guilty verdict. Not only did the first jury deadlock on the death penalty without seeing the new evidence of Wright's innocence, but Pennsylvania is in the midst of a wholesale reexamination of its flawed capital punishment system - as are many states amid growing public and legal pressure to scrap executions altogether.
Williams can use the Wright case to get on the right side of that historical shift toward a more just criminal justice system.